By Paul Ampurire
As the battle against Covid rages on in Uganda, it’s fair to say we are in the phase I will call ‘Complacency’. It’s been seven months of raising awareness on what Covid is, how it spreads, signs and symptoms, and prevention. And we’ve done well on the front of awareness. Ask any 6-year-old. Chances are, they know what Covid is.
However, as the second wave of the pandemic sweeps across most parts world, with spikes in new cases, here in Uganda, everyone seems to have put their guard down. People wear masks not for protection but to get through checkpoints, to access a shopping mall, work place and other public spaces.
What began as the most basic preventive method – washing hands – has since been ignored. All this laxity coupled with the growing perception that the Covid-related deaths are a fallacy peddled by government to achieve its own selfish motives (especially political) will be a big huddle in winning this war. Many Ugandans still think Covid is alien.
They have assumed a high sense of immunity and immortality which I think is partly attributed to the low Covid deaths Uganda has registered. But especially because no one close to them has paid the ultimate price due to Covid.
I myself had been a little complacent and reckless until recently when I sat at a funeral in Kamengo, Mpigi district, of someone who had died of coronavirus. Ivan Kakooza, 38, was running his business – Nexus bar in Najeera -, a very popular entertainment spot in Kampala, when he fell ill. He went in isolation at his home after testing positive for Covid. Days later after his situation deteriorated, he was admitted at Mulago hospital. Ivan wasn’t lucky enough to recover.
News of his death broke on Friday. Headlines would later attribute his demise to Covid. One would say he was privileged enough among the 94 that have so far succumbed to the virus, he got media attention. The wide clientele that Nexus has served over the years and the influence the bar commands in Kampala’s nightlife gave him the prominence required to be newsworthy.
The news cycle fast circled as always, everyone moved on. Ivan was another headline, another statistic. Another daily update on Covid by the Ministry of Health. Back in March, these updates carried significance. Today, nobody really cares how many new cases there are, how many recovered and how many have died of Covid. We have become ‘immortal’.
But it wasn’t until the funeral ceremony that the impact of a single death dawned on me. Listening to stories especially from the Nexus staff weighed heavy on me. It’s then that it became clear to me what the stakes are in the fight against Covid. And had Ivan seen this with the same clarity that I had at that moment, perhaps he would have been more responsible with his life.
A security staffer broke down as he eulogized his boss. He couldn’t hold back emotions as he narrated how he wasn’t able to keep his ill boss company and look after him because Ivan wouldn’t let him. It was dangerous for his health. He carried food for him daily but he couldn’t even stay to convince him to eat it. Each day he saw Ivan get weary.
Another staffer recounted how Ivan had trusted him so much, sometimes with large sums of money. How he had groomed him and oriented him on the mechanics of the events business. Ivan had shared with him his vision for the business and the pleasure he drew from seeing the compound lit up with the state-of-the-art equipment. This man wept helplessly because a man that had mentored him and given him a livelihood was gone.
Other members of staff expressed how fortunate they were that Ivan cared less about their work experience before employing them. How he gave them a chance to learn new skills. How his passion had seen the business which started as a parking space and washing bay about 4 years ago, grow steadily to employ over 70 people.
An administrator shared how Ivan was a breadwinner for his elderly parents back in Mpigi. And how he regularly instructed her to send them (parents) upkeep.
Several DJs share the same sentiments – of loss. Ivan seems to have through his events given DJs priority in bookings. Nexus held several events that were headlined by local DJs and sometimes those from Kenya. In an event that this strategy changes and these bookings are no longer coming, a plethora of Deejays will feel a pinch.
At the funeral, the depth and breadth of Ivan’s impact on people’s livelihoods became vivid. His death is not just a loss to the 75 Nexus staffers whose income hangs in balance. It’s a loss to other dependants who look to them for a livelihood. The blow is even greater for Ivan’s parents in Mpigi who are too old to fend for themselves.
Not to mention his demise inevitably entangles his business whose vibrancy benefited Uganda’s economy, in uncertainty. There are chances that in absence of the ambitious leader he was, it will go under.
Reality sunk in. That whenever authorities appeal to you to wear a face mask, it isn’t for your individual benefit. Wear the mask for your loved ones, the people that depend on you, a business that you run, the economy that thrives on it. The stakes are high.
The writer is a journalist and blogger